Seven Questions for Sculptor Jim
What's the process to create a bear
from a block of stone?
I usually begin with a small-scale
model to show a client what the finished
work will look like. From this model I
calculate the dimensions needed for the
full size piece and search for a
[granite] block as close to these
proportions as possible.
After choosing and purchasing a
block, I hire big diamond saws to make
some initial cuts, such as making a flat
bottom, cutting the block to the correct
proportions and cutting off unnecessary
corners, etc. The last few years, I have
made use of a special saw called a
"contour saw." This is kind of like a
big band saw, which can make curved
cuts. It is quite expensive, but saves a
lot of time in certain situations.
For this project, I drew the contour
of the back, neck and head of the large
bear (leaving a little extra) and had
the large piece under the head and neck
sawn out. Of course, the block is still
the full thickness, but it gives a good
From this point, I use my own diamond
saws to remove as much of the rough
stone as possible. The circular blades
are tipped with diamond and can make
straight cuts about two to three inches
deep. By making several parallel cuts
about two inches apart, the stone can
than be broken from the side with a
thick flat chisel. This is the technique
I use for the "roughing out" process.
Lots of straight cuts can begin to
describe a curved surface.
I am nearly finished with this part
at this point and soon I will begin
using my pneumatic hammers – or air
hammer -- and chisels. At that point I
will be between 1/2" to 1" from the
final surface. This is a time-consuming
process. Granite is very hard and it's
necessary to pulverize the surface with
four and nine pointed chisels until you
are very close to the final form. Then
you can use various sizes of flat
chisels that fit into these air hammers,
which are like miniature jack hammers.
How long does the process take, start
If I include the
preliminary model-making, this project
should take about 6 months -- I hope.
What's your favorite part of the
I enjoy all phases of the project,
but I guess I especially like it when I
reach the point where everything has
come together and it is just the final
surface that needs work.
For a long time, it seems as though
things are not quite developing quickly
enough and you wonder if you will ever
reach that point. Luckily, eventually it
What's your attraction to nature and
natural forms? Why is it important to
you to create them?
I have been attracted to nature and
natural forms from childhood. I was
always fascinated with snakes, frogs,
turtles and other creatures for as
long as I can remember and often
collected them as pets.
My first stone carving was a frog (as
a student at Phillips Exeter Academy)
bronze a mother and baby koala bear. I
continued to study art and art history
at Oberlin College, where I was
encouraged to experiment with more
"contemporary" ideas and materials.
During that time I worked with foam
rubber and abstract forms. While it was
enjoyable, as soon as I left I returned
to the natural forms and materials to
which I was always drawn.
At this point I see nature as my
You often place creatures outside of
their natural habitat -- like your
hippos at the edge of Vermont lake, or
whale tails waving from a hillside. What
do you see as the significance of a
polar bear in downtown Andover?
I guess I hope by placing creatures
outside of their natural habitat that it
might cause people to think about the
fact that our world is very small. That
what we do in Andover or anywhere else
has an effect on creatures all over the
world. The polar bear has become the
"poster child" for global warming.
Hopefully, the sculpture will serve as a
focal point for discussions about man's
effect on the environment.
In 2000, I was commissioned to make a
sculpture of the extinct Great Auk. This
example of what can happen when we do
not exercise good stewardship of our
environment. I hope the polar bear will
not suffer the same fate. I'd like to
think that my work might have some small
beneficial effect on their survival. I
think children are the answer to turning
What's it like being a professional
sculptor? Is it as awesome as it seems
it would be?
It is awesome to be a professional
sculptor, but it is not without its down
side. It is wonderful to wake up and
look forward to working, even though it
is physically demanding. To get paid for
creating my own designs in stone and
bronze is a dream.
However, one never knows where the
next job will come from or how long it
may take to find one. This economic
insecurity is the most difficult part.
I've learned to keep working at finding
the next commission while I'm working on
the current one and to try not to worry
too much about it. So far, things have
worked out quite nicely.
When a piece is finished and leaves
your studio, do you ever miss it or feel
a sense of sadness of "letting it go"?
I do miss having a sculpture around
my studio after it leaves, especially
after working on it for many months. The
good thing is that I'm fortunate to have
sculptures that I can visit in some
beautiful places. Now I'll be forever
returning to Andover, something I never
imagined as a graduate of Exeter!